The Blue Note Years In Philly
Yesterday evening (Friday), I took a quick drive up to the City of Brotherly Love, its Phillies currently basking in World Series glory and its Eagles undefeated at 8-0, to check out “Celebrating the Blue Note Years” at Chris’ Jazz Cafe. The great trombonist Steve Davis led an outstanding sextet, featuring Steve Wilson (as), Eric Alexander (ts), and the young homegrown Tim Brey Trio rhythm section with Alex Claffy (b) and Joe Peri (d).
The iconic Blue Note label, established in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, was the most influential and respected jazz labels of the mid-20th century, noted for its role in facilitating the development of hard bop, post-bop, and avant-garde Jazz. Its 1950s-60s recordings, with Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) at the helm, captured such artists and groups as: Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Smith, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, J.J. Johnson, Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Grant Green, just to name few. WOW!!!
During the first set, Stevie D & Company covered three Blue Note staples, along with an original:
- Stan’s Shuffle (Stanley Turrentine)
- Black Nile (Wayne Shorter)
- ‘Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk)
- Chainsaw (Eric Alexander)
Keeping alive the spirit of the 1950s Blue Note era, the stellar group provided hard swingin’, no-holds barred treatment of the first two tunes, including incredible solos and trading fours with Mr. Peri. This was followed by the beautiful “‘Round Midnight” ballad, with a beautiful piano intro by Mr. Brey, performed by both Steves, alternating phrases. The set concluded with Eric’s mid-tempo “Chainsaw”, each member taking an extended solo.
The first set was followed by the customary and very informative Q&A with host Steve Wright. Davis, a Binghamton, NY, native, stated that he discovered Jazz at the early age of 14 after hearing a recording of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” (Blue Note) on the radio. Because his dad had several rock & roll and Jazz records around the house (including “The Sidewinder”), Steve soon engrossed himself in his father’s collection of Blue Note recordings, including those of Horace Silver, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, and Lee Morgan. After hearing trombonist J.J. Johnson on Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean” album, as well as trombonist Curtis Fuller on Art Blakey’s albums, Steve was hooked on that instrument! He also spoke of his mentor, the great Jackie McClean, giving him words of encouragement at the tender age of 24: “Don’t be afraid if you ‘crack’ a note. No one’s gonna knows except you!” Steve is also an alumnus of the esteemed Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers “finishing school”!
Overall, an outstanding performance, reminiscent of those memorable, classic Blue Note recordings, and certainly worth the 110-mile trek from Baltimore… 🎵🎵